Radioactive! The Amazing World of Nuclear Radiation

What is radioactivity and is it safe? In this fact-packed course, you will learn about the physical causes and types of radioactivity, its detection and measurement, its history, its environmental and health effects, its dangers and benefits, and its uses in industry, medicine, consumer products, power generation, and weapons.

This course will impart not only a knowledge of nuclear science and radioactive safety, but also the realization that radioactivity is a natural phenomenon which surrounds us, and its ubiquitous presence stretches back to the beginning of creation.

Week 1: Defining Radioactivity, A Brief History, Nuclear vs. Chemical Reactions, Isotopes, Half-Life, Alpha, Beta, Gamma Penetration

Week 2: Properties of Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Neutron Radiation, How a Geiger Counter and Scintillation Detector Work, Energy and Units of Measurement

Week 3: Nature and Cause of Radioactivity, Decay Chains, Radioactive Minerals, Radioactive Consumer Products

Week 4: Health Physics and Ionizing Radiation, Health Effects of Ionizing Radiation, Time, Distance, Shielding, "The Radioactive Boy Scout," Radium History

Week 5: Fission and Fusion, Criticality, Nuclear Reactors, Nuclear Weapons

This summer course is intended to be both educational and entertaining. The learning process includes live, laboratory demonstrations of radioactive materials, interactive notes (with plenty of color illustrations), short videos, handouts, and articles.


The homework consists of viewing several videos on the history of nuclear science, reading an article, "The Radioactive Boy Scout,” and graphing a Half-Life experiment which uses M&M's or Skittles.

Students taking this class for credit will be required to take two tests. There is no test requirement if you are taking the class for enrichment.


It is recommended that students have a basic familiarity with the Periodic Table of Elements (atomic number, atomic mass, arrangement of elements), basic atomic structure (proton, neutron, electron), and electromagnetic energy. Knowledge of chemistry is a plus, but not required.